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Atmosphere

#1
One thing that I think it's important to consider is the atmosphere that the game will have. Other words for what I'm getting at here are personality or vibe. Will LT make you feel like you're somewhere else, or simply sitting at your PC playing a simulation?

Freelancer, for all its faults, had atmosphere. Perhaps it's because each house had different ships and different architecture on the planets. Games like Endless Space, however, didn't. They looked great, and had great UIs... but felt sterile.

Why is this, and what can be done to make sure LT has the elusive ingredient that provides "atmosphere"?

One of the reasons I pushed back a little on the concept of not having faces for NPCs is that interacting with a list of data about which the only unique thing is a name could be... well, lacking. Having the ability to see a face - and recognise it as a friendly - would go a long way to suck the player in.

Or do you think I'm blowing smoke?
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Re: Atmosphere

#2
mcsven wrote:One of the reasons I pushed back a little on the concept of not having faces for NPCs is that interacting with a list of data about which the only unique thing is a name could be... well, lacking. Having the ability to see a face - and recognise it as a friendly - would go a long way to suck the player in.
From your post in the other thread:
mcsven wrote:I know the Boss has said NOT a face, but I was wondering: why not? Procedural facial generation should surely be feasible, if we go for something rudimentary. Anyone that has played with a Wii can attest to the large variety of faces that are possible to construct using a palette of fixed features (like eyes, noses, eyebrows etc.). Why not get one of the resident artists to draw up some of these feature templates... and then just randomly (or nearly randomly) piece them together when the AI is first encountered?
I agree with you that rendering faces could be one of the best ways to increase the atmosphere and immersiveness of Limit Theory if done right. When I was developing a game with two other people last year as part of a university project, one of the suggestions a member of the team made was to make it so these orb-like objects we had in the game had faces. Since the game was my vision, I didn't think that it fitted the feel of the game, but I can completely understand his reasoning: games tend to benefit a lot from having some kind of character or personifiable object in the game that the player can relate to. I don't think Doodle Jump, Pac-Man or Angry Birds would have been quite as popular otherwise. I'm not familiar with any research to justify this at the moment, though.

That being said, I think that you'd need to have fairly realistic face generation in LT; I don't see Wii-style avatars as really fitting the feel of the game. But getting realistic face generation that works well would likely be an extremely challenging task for Josh, due to a psychological phenomenon called the uncanny valley where humans tend to be repulsed by things that are similar to healthy human beings but not quite there.
Image On the other hand, I'm thinking along the lines of having some very weird and abstract version of representing the NPC. No eyes, faces or mouths; something like having a bunch of nodes arranged in a circular or spherical layout and which bustled about in some manner as the NPC "spoke", or re-oriented themselves/changed colour/changed size in some way to convey his "mood". NPCs that belonged to the same species or were closely genetically related to each other would have similar patterns to these arrangement.

In fact, I think this could be quite interesting and something that would be easier for Josh to implement as well as fit more with the style of the game: abstract an NPCs face as a collection of nodes with a certain pattern to them, and have them re-arrange themselves as they talk or change their "expression". Make it so that the static patterns and dynamic re-arrangement behaviours of them are procedurally generated and consistent, so that a player can become familiar with these patterns as he plays the game and interacts with NPCs of a particular species.

Futurama's "God" is the best example I can think of for conveying what I mean.

This could tie in with gameplay as well: a universal translater might be able to deliver you the raw translation of what an NPC is saying, but not how they expressed it. I imagine that in any interaction you have with an NPC, you have a node panel/interface that opens that shows both the translated text of their message, as well as their "face" represented as a pattern of nodes. By becoming familiar with those patterns, the player could become better at interpreting the mood of the NPC, which could help them in their negotiations. If you're bartering with an NPC and you see the nodes representing his face patterning themselves into something you recognise as anger or frustation, it's probably not a good idea to drive the bargain any harder - you would likely be better off settling on what you've currently agreed. If you're a pirate and you open comms with an NPC that expresses fear or intimidation, it'd probably work in your favour for you to try and intimidate them into surrendering their cargo. And so on.

In order to make it so that the player does not gain any special privilege that NPCs don't have access to, NPCs would also need a way of gaining the ability to interpret NPC mood. I envisage a process whereby the more an NPC interacts with a particular kind of faction, the higher a coefficient becomes that lets information about the state of the other NPCs' moods and expressions "diffuse" over to the first NPC, allowing him to utilise that information in his reasoning. The rate at which this coefficient increases could be based on his FRACAS characteristics, such as whether he's more feeling or thinking, more sociable or reserved, etc.
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Re: Atmosphere

#3
Sounds good to me. I'm not married to faces, just something that brings a different slant to the NPCs as one way to ensure the game really immerses the player. I think it'll be very difficult to create patterns that are memorable however. The memorability of faces is kind of hard-coded into us, and even subtle differences can be enough to set two faces apart.

What else is there? How about differences in the UI? Will the UI be identical for each in-game location, or will there be different backgrounds? In Freelancer there were different settings. Whilst the variation wasn't enormous, it was enough to make it seem like you'd traveled to a different place than the last one you docked at. This is the kind of small detail that will really make the game IMO.
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Re: Atmosphere

#4
mcsven wrote:Sounds good to me. I'm not married to faces, just something that brings a different slant to the NPCs as one way to ensure the game really immerses the player. I think it'll be very difficult to create patterns that are memorable however. The memorability of faces is kind of hard-coded into us, and even subtle differences can be enough to set two faces apart.
Correct, it won't be as straightforward to extract information on mood and such from these nodes as with faces, but there are several benefits to this:
  • By making extraction of this information harder, it turns it into a challenge that contributes to gameplay, as the player can invest effort into becoming good at the task and be rewarded for it.
  • By abstracting the concept of a face, you can represent many more types of species than if you were trying to visually represent it using realistic face generation algorithms. What if the species has 10,000,000 eyes? What if they have some weird, esoteric equivalent of a mouth? What if they're not even "physical", but a sentient computer program or energy-based species?
  • You can potentially model other information beyond what a person's face would convey. I can't think of anything off the top of my head for this; hungry and dehydrated.
  • It'd likely fit the feel of Limit Theory quite well, being node-based and all.
In addition, humans are exceedingly good at visual pattern recognition. How is it that human chess players, who can consider at most a handful of chess states between moves, can compete against computers that can consider hundreds of millions of states a second? It's because computers and humans reason about chess moves in qualitatively different ways - computers try to explore through the state space of possible moves and analyse each individual state in terms of how likely it is to be of benefit to the computer, perhaps using heuristics to prune some branches from consideration. Humans, on the other hand, are far better at pattern recognition than computers, and are able to relate the state of the chessboard to some pattern that they have memorised, and then use the solution to that pattern to choose their next move, making their technique more in-line with case-based reasoning.

I believe that the player will become familiar with the patterns of NPC moods and such over time, so long as they remain consistent. It's what the human brain is designed for.
Image
mcsven wrote:What else is there? How about differences in the UI? Will the UI be identical for each in-game location, or will there be different backgrounds? In Freelancer there were different settings. Whilst the variation wasn't enormous, it was enough to make it seem like you'd traveled to a different place than the last one you docked at. This is the kind of small detail that will really make the game IMO.
Personally, I think the UI shouldn't change, since the UI is really an abstraction of the information that your own ship is giving you, and you'd imagine that it would maintain a consistent way of doing so. I'd like the UI to be configurable, sure, but I'm not sure why the UI would change if you just moved to a different region of space.
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Re: Atmosphere

#5
My touchstone for a game's design is this: is it memorable?

Is there anything about this game that instantly comes to mind when I'm randomly thinking about games? Is there any particular thought or memory of play that I instantly snap to when someone mentions the name of the game?

For example, for the Portal games it might be the sound of the portal gun (sorry, the ASHPD) firing, or the generalized sound of GLaDOS snarking at you about something, or the kinesthetic memory of flying through a particularly awesome test chamber, but it could also be a sort of gestalt combination of all of those things. Together they created an intense and unique "feel." Portal is highly memorable.

I expect this is true for other people for other games. The point is not to list those here, but to comment that I think it's this memorability that separates the games widely considered to be great from those that are generally perceived as just OK.

So what should be memorable about Limit Theory? What should it have that, when someone mentions Limit Theory, your mind immediately recalls it so that your next thought is, "Oh, man, that was awesome, I need to go replay that game right now"?

As a starting point, my feeling is that NPC portraits aren't where LT's memorability should be, but the node interface might be a good starting point. That's especially true if its look and feel are echoed throughout the user interface and gameplay as Josh seems to be suggesting he wants to do. (Note: important interface actions really need to have unobtrusive but distinctive sound effects. The importance of sound design for memorability is underappreciated.)

Presentation tends to help makes games memorable, but what about straight-up gameplay? What game mechanic could LT have that is so uniquely enjoyable and explorable in different ways that it becomes an instant memory when someone says, "Hey, remember Limit Theory?"
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Re: Atmosphere

#6
Humans are also really good at seeing faces where there are none, and empathising with even the most abstract inanimate objects.
For example, Wilson from Cast Away or the Companion Cube from Portal or HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odessy.
Another one of my favourites is GERTY from Moon. It looks absolutely nothing like a person, save for a panel that displays basic emotes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ih0V-j9lji8

I very much disagree with the graph used to represent the "uncanny valley". People are able to empathize far more with zombies than with androids with near-perfect faces.
Just look at some of the japanese androids out there. The closer they are to human, the more uncanny they feel.

To have a player able to empathize with a character, it seems the further it is from human, the more a player can identify with it.

More examples: Imagine iRobot with human faces on the robots. Or imagine HAL9000 as a disembodied head...
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Re: Atmosphere

#8
Sasha wrote:I very much disagree with the graph used to represent the "uncanny valley". People are able to empathize far more with zombies than with androids with near-perfect faces.
Just look at some of the japanese androids out there. The closer they are to human, the more uncanny they feel.

To have a player able to empathize with a character, it seems the further it is from human, the more a player can identify with it.

More examples: Imagine iRobot with human faces on the robots. Or imagine HAL9000 as a disembodied head...
Agreed, with that particular graph. It'd make more sense to have something like you describe at the bottom of the valley than a zombie. Still, the "uncanny valley" phenomenon is pretty firmly established and I just chose a graph at random to demonstrate its existence.
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Re: Atmosphere

#9
Flatfingers wrote:As a starting point, my feeling is that NPC portraits aren't where LT's memorability should be, but the node interface might be a good starting point. That's especially true if its look and feel are echoed throughout the user interface and gameplay as Josh seems to be suggesting he wants to do. (Note: important interface actions really need to have unobtrusive but distinctive sound effects. The importance of sound design for memorability is underappreciated.)
Agreed. I would like some kind of equally abstract sound effect to play as the nodes change to complement the re-orientation/changing colours/sizes of the nodes as you interact with an NPC. These sound effects should be correlated with the patterns of change of the nodes so that the player can learn to notice patterns through both an acoustic as well as visual means.

These sound effects wouldn't be anything like spoken words. I don't really know how to describe how I'm thinking of them, and I'm fortunate enough to even have something to fall back on to describe how I see the abstract visual side of interaction to play out (Futurama's "God").

And yeah, node-based interfaces in general could benefit from some nice sound effects.
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Re: Atmosphere

#10
As people said, making good face generation is problematic.

I'd like to give a little spin on the original idea - we are living in the Internet age and use forum avatars a lot - some pictures that we think represent us in some way. Say, using procedurally generated images to give some personality to the contract's poster in the contracts posting boards would be a nice touch.

For example:

[cute fluffy kitten picture] Mission: destroy space station at coordinates ______ (coordinates) and kill everybody who tries to escape.

Reward: my eternal gratitude

On a more serious note, factions giving missions absolutely should have their logo in the posted contract.
Image
Survivor of the Josh Parnell Blackout of 2015.
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Re: Atmosphere

#11
Uncanny valley is exactly the reason I won't touch faces in LT1. To get them right will require enormous dev effort and, to be honest, I don't think it would add that much to the game. If the game were full-blown landing and getting out of your ship to walk around, sure, it would add a lot. But just seeing a face overlaid on your interface? Dunno, not that big of a win IMO (then again, I never was a people person :P ).

I was thinking much more along the lines of the abstract representation described by Thymine. The idea that we can still convey the patterns of thought, emotion, and dialogue but in an abstract way - that's such a cool thought! And as Thymine points out, it's made even cooler by the fact that we will be learning how to do it on the fly. You will learn to "perceive the emotions" of the LT AI through a completely different mechanism than you do with humans.

As for atmosphere, the game has been designed around creating a vibrant and unique atmosphere from day one. Freelancer is the bible precisely because of how well it did with that.

And finally, memorability. I'm biased, but, TBH, I don't think there's going to be many aspects of this game that won't be memorable. The first time you play with the 3D UI, the first time you build your own ship, the first time you run a mission for an NPC and realize that it's giving you intelligent commands, the first time you make a friend and have them do a favor for you, the first time you discover a new spatial anomaly, the first time you build a station from scratch, the first time you discover a dazzling new technology, the first time you witness a large-scale emergent event happening in your vicinity (massive clash of factions, massive pirate raid, etc.)...the list of memorable moments will not be short, so long as everything is polished to the degree that it deserves to be :) :thumbup:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.” ~ Henry Ford
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Re: Atmosphere

#12
outlander4 wrote:As people said, making good face generation is problematic.

I'd like to give a little spin on the original idea - we are living in the Internet age and use forum avatars a lot - some pictures that we think represent us in some way. Say, using procedurally generated images to give some personality to the contract's poster in the contracts posting boards would be a nice touch.

For example:

[cute fluffy kitten picture] Mission: destroy space station at coordinates ______ (coordinates) and kill everybody who tries to escape.
I don't think that having procedurally generated images like fluffy kitten pictures would really fit the feel of Limit Theory (how would you procedurally generate that anyway?)

My thoughts are along the following lines.

Factions will have general insignias that are procedurally generated based on nodes. They will have "broad-scale" features:
Image (Direct link)

Personal insignias (relating to individual NPCs) will be similarly procedurally generated, but based on the insignia of the faction to which the NPC belongs and with additional features at a finer level:
Image (Direct link)
outlander4 wrote:On a more serious note, factions giving missions absolutely should have their logo in the posted contract.
I think that contracts should include the personal insignia of an agent if it's posting on its own behalf, and the factional insignia if it's posting on behalf of its faction (and so on with corporations and other organisations :) )
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Re: Atmosphere

#13
JoshParnell wrote:And finally, memorability. I'm biased, but, TBH, I don't think there's going to be many aspects of this game that won't be memorable. The first time you play with the 3D UI, the first time you build your own ship, the first time you run a mission for an NPC and realize that it's giving you intelligent commands, the first time you make a friend and have them do a favor for you, the first time you discover a new spatial anomaly, the first time you build a station from scratch, the first time you discover a dazzling new technology, the first time you witness a large-scale emergent event happening in your vicinity (massive clash of factions, massive pirate raid, etc.)...the list of memorable moments will not be short, so long as everything is polished to the degree that it deserves to be :) :thumbup:
The first time you enter a different universe (a pocket universe :ghost: ) and make it your own.
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Re: Atmosphere

#14
ThymineC wrote:I don't think that having procedurally generated images like fluffy kitten pictures would really fit the feel of Limit Theory (how would you procedurally generate that anyway?)
That was my sense of humour. No kittens in LT, we have youtube for it! But some sort of graphical image would be nice...and at that
ThymineC wrote:My thoughts are along the following lines.
I like your designs, that's more or less what I had in mind, but maybe with more geometric shapes and some text (since nodal UI can now render almost everything related to the node)...well, I'm imagining an NPC being also a node, and all his sub-nodes representing his permanent qualities arranged in a complex figure together with his name.
Image
Survivor of the Josh Parnell Blackout of 2015.
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Re: Atmosphere

#15
outlander4 wrote:
ThymineC wrote:My thoughts are along the following lines.
I like your designs, that's more or less what I had in mind, but maybe with more geometric shapes and some text (since nodal UI can now render almost everything related to the node)...well, I'm imagining an NPC being also a node, and all his sub-nodes representing his permanent qualities arranged in a complex figure together with his name.
Thanks, yeah, I agree with you, there's a whole variety of shapes that can procedurally generated. I like thinking in terms of circles, though. :P These are ones I just threw together to demonstrate the idea, and it would probably be much nicer to see insignias based on other polygons as well.

As for text - definitely! It would be cool to have some "central node" or anchor to every insignia which all the other nodes are sort of based around, and which contains the label for the faction, corporation or agent.

And yeah, I think of agents as nodes as well, as that makes it possible to represent them using Object nodes in my proposed programming language for Limit Theory in Limit Theory Programming Language, which I see being used for stategic-level play (automated vessel resource allocation, fleet design, blueprint design + component manufacture, combat protocols, business management, etc.)

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